Practical support for scientists dealing with harassment

How do you file a police report? And who should you inform if you’re receiving threats? Universities are working on a help guide for scientists dealing with intimidation.

TU Delft researchers also face harassment and threats. (Photo: Claudio Schwarz via Unsplash)

In March, Leiden historian Nadia Bouras filed a police report for harassment after someone had left a Vizier op Links sticker on her front door, referring to a platform that takes aim at perceived left-wing activists. Bouras’ employer, Leiden University, also reported the incident to the police, and the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) underscored that these kinds of threats and intimidation tactics are unacceptable.

Hate campaigns
Bouras is not the only scientist being harassed. Also TU Delft-scientist have to deal with this issue. For example, Niek Mouter’s (TPM faculty) inbox flooded with spoilers and angry emails after he conducted a survey on support for a vaccination certificate.

Last Friday, the TV programme Nieuwsuur interviewed other professors and lecturers about the hate campaigns, social media hacking attempts, death threats and intimidation at their own front doors they have to deal with.

Among them were Catherine de Vries, professor of Political Economy in Milan, Sarah de Lange, professor of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam, and Leonie de Jonge, a Political Science lecturer at the University of Groningen whose research focuses on far-right political movements.

Marion Koopmans, professor of Virology at Erasmus University Rotterdam, is also facing fierce public backlash. As a member of the Outbreak Management Team, which advises the Dutch government on its coronavirus response, she has been a familiar face on TV during the pandemic. As a result, she is regularly attacked on Twitter. Talking to Nieuwsuur, Koopmans said that this could very well lead to self-censorship. “When you get these kinds of messages for a while, you do start to wonder: why do I keep doing this?”

Andy van den Dobbelsteen of the Faculty of Architecture got harassed by angry Twitter users as a result of a tweet about a manifesto against the Dutch climate law. “I started being more careful with how I formulated things as I realised that there are people on social media who have all the time in the world to get you on every detail of your work. I am also careful with tagging Twitter addresses that I know lots of trolls follow. I used @telegraaf in my New Year’s Eve tweet and this apparently drew a lot of readers immediately. I block people who start shouting straightaway and ignore the people who only want to push their own opinions and not enter into a discussion. Before responding to anyone, I also check that they are real people.”

Recently, Van den Dobbelsteen as TU Delft sustainability coordinator found himself once again busy on social media after he announced that the Faculty of Architecture would henceforth have an exclusively vegetarian menu. His tweet was repeatedly dismissed as #vegaterreur (vegan terror), but Van den Dobbelsteen takes it lightly:

Translation: Unnoticed, the vegatarian canteen at Architecture pushed my number of followers over the 5000 mark. Party! Thanks all, I will try to make it worthwhile!

Ineke Sluiter, president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, has pointed out that female scientists, politicians and journalists appear to be targeted for harassment more often than their male peers. She has pleaded for support before, and did so again on Nieuwsuur. “We can’t stop trolls from trying to silence female scientists through intolerance, sexism, obscenity, threats and intimidation. But we can support the people who have to deal with harassment, and that helps a lot.”

That’s why university association VSNU is working on a guide for scientists who have been intimidated or threatened. “The guide will explain what steps they can take and who they can turn to at their university and beyond”, says a spokesperson. Universities will also receive tips on how to help their employees, for example when it comes to filing a police report.

HOP, Hein Cuppen/ Delta 
Translation: Taalcentrum-VU


HOP Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau

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